God has been up to some really great things in our lives - as he always is! As most of you know, we were in the tornado that happened on May 20, 2013 in Moore, Ok. We were in the Moore Medical Center when it took a direct hit from the EF5 tornado that ravaged our town. I posted pictures about a week after the tornado as that was all I could muster. Now that it has been a couple of months, the words come a little easier. The damage is real, the pain is fierce, and the holes left behind are brutally sore. We, as a community, as a state, as a nation lost a LOT that day. Many people are asking where was God in this and why did some people live that really shouldn't have according to our knowledge, and others why they passed when they should have been safe! I cannot answer many of these questions that are swarming around in the heads of the citizens of Moore, but I can answer one of them.. Where was God? God was WITH us ALL! He never left us. He didn't forget about anyone. He didn't turn his back on us at all. He has a plan and a purpose for everything that happens, and while we may not understand, he does and that is all that matters! I know it is easier said than done to trust God and rely fully on his grace and know that even in our distress, he is our savior.. but... I know it can be done. It has to be done. We have to trust him. We have to rely on him. Fully. He is our creator and he knows far more than we do and will ever know.
To give you our story from that day, I'll back up to that afternoon when we were visiting Bryan's Grandparents out in Slaughterville, OK. We had a great time playing all around, chasing frogs, peeking around with snakes under the house, a little catch, and as the skies began to darken and alerts began going off on our phones warning of the impending storms, we decided it'd be a good time to head home. We decided to stop off at Sonic for a happy hour treat on the way and then get home in time to get the puppies inside and take cover if necessary. Bryan and I had talked the night before that he had never seen a tornado in real life and as we were driving we saw the funnel form and drop down from the sky. We snapped a few pictures and as quickly as the thrill of seeing one from a safe distance came, it was gone. We saw it coming faster and faster, growing larger and larger. What was a neat thing to see quickly became a terror. As we were coming up on 19th st. in Moore traffic began to stall. People were pulling over and getting under the overpass. Fear was setting in. We had to get off that highway. We had to get home. My Dad was at the Moore Medical Center for some follow up testing from a procedure he had done previously and they had been told they could not leave due to the inclement weather. He called us on the way warning us that it was coming and we told him we could see it and were on our way home. He called again as we were getting off at 19th St. and was reiterating what the weathermen were saying - that this was going to be worse than May 3, 1999 and we needed to seek immediate shelter. He said it was headed on the same path as the May 3rd tornado.. meaning right to our house. It wasn't going to be safe to go home; that is if we even made it that far, which in the current traffic situation wasn't likely. He asked us to please come to the hospital to seek shelter. I assured him we were off the highway and would be right there.
As we exited the highway and were stopped at the light at 19th st. a huge hail stone fell from the sky and hit right in front of my seat on the windshield. This hail came out of no where! There was no rain, nothing! There were several men that were working on the bank that had come up to the side of the road and were videoing the tornado and when the hail stone hit we all jumped and they screamed and pointed. That was the beginning of the shock of what was to come. We made our way to the Moore Medical Center, parked just south of the entrance and I headed inside with the kids. Bryan stayed behind with many of the other men there watching as it came down on our city. I got inside and turned around to say something to him and realized he wasn't with me. The staff of the hospital were screaming at us to get inside and for me to go on without him. I tried to tell them, that is my husband out there! I can't go without him. I need him! He needs to come in. They assured me they would get him inside and hustled me into the cafeteria where they had moved most of the patients and others that had come seeking shelter. As they walked me in the lady warned me that the lights would probably go out, but that they have a generator and so they would be back on shortly, dimmer, but would have some light.
I saw my parents and went straight to them. The kids and I were worried that Bryan was outside and we had no way to get him inside. Thankfully, they kept to their word and shortly after, I saw Bryan coming towards us. We waived him down he joined our family in the center of the room. We were all anxiously trying to listen to the news which was in and out and then it happened.. the lights went off and the generator kicked on. We lost TV. There was a lady next to me that had her iPad and we were trying to read the subtitles of the broadcast which were saying worse than May 3rd and then, that too was gone. We gathered our family and prayed together that God would get us through this and keep us safe and help our emotions to stay calm. The room was so loud with people frantically trying to figure out what was going on and what to do next. The staff of the hospital came in and had passed out water bottles and tried to keep everyone calm. The next thing we know there are a couple of staff yelling to the crowd to be quiet as they have an urgent message. They get the room to a dull roar and tell us that the hospital is going to take a direct hit. We are to get on the floor and take our tornado positions NOW!
We hit the floor, had the kids cover their heads and we laid over them. The tears were falling, the pressure in our ears rising, and the shrills of the people inside the room crying out "we're going to die!!!" and many other things and all we knew to do was praise Jesus. We couldn't muster anything but Jesus loves me so we sang it as loud as we could with cracking voices and sobbing between breaths. The tornado hit that hospital full on and as things whirled around us and electrical wires were ripped apart, we smelled fire all around us. Our ears were so painful with the pressure and it was so loud and yet not "freight train" loud. This tornado was different from what I've always heard it is like. We heard a very distinct high pitched whistle. It pierced our ears and broke our hearts. As we lay there across our children crying out, I begged God to please, don't leave anyone behind. Take us all or don't take any. At that moment, I felt the hand of God over us. It was as though I could visibly see his hand over that room, over our family. I lifted my head to look around as I honestly thought I'd see us being lifted to heaven. I looked towards my husband and saw him looking into the hallway with his jaw dropped and he said "IT'S. RIGHT. THERE!" As I looked past him into the hallway, I could see things swirling all around. Wood, ceiling tiles, all kinds of debris and apparently people.. my dad saw a woman thrown from her wheel chair and the chair going behind her. I shook my head and yelled back at him "Cover your kids!" At this second I turned back to duck down over my kiddos and saw my son Austin with tears streaming down his face to my right. I didn't know what to say as he looked at that same hallway and saw the same things we did and he asked me "Mom, are we even going to make it out of this?" I yelled back at him, "Get your head down!" He responded with "Are we going to die?" I could hear the second floor being ripped from on top of us and could feel more and more pressure and debris flying around us. In my heart I thought, no, honey, we aren't but at least we are going together. As a mom, I couldn't say it. I yelled back, "YES! Now get your head down!" I slammed his head down and laid across him. I figured if we did survive they could fix his head if it was hurt from my forceful push but nothing could be done if he was taken from me. The tornado continued to bear down on the hospital and I continued to cry and hold my babies and my parents as we helplessly crouched down and waited for it to be over.
As soon as it was over there was a strange, but welcome quiet that came over the hospital. As we began to rise from our knees, we dusted ourselves off and hugged one another, looking around wondering how we were still alive, much less, not hurt at all! We looked around the room and didn't see anyone with any injuries at all. The staff began telling us we needed to cram in and make more room for others seeking shelter?!? What!? It's over isn't it!? They thought there was another funnel about to hit and we needed to get those in the hallway in. It seemed as though as soon as we let them in they were telling us all to evacuate and do so NOW! They were afraid the building was going to implode and we had to get out. They asked if anyone needed medical attention and I tried to get Austin to go with me as he was having a very hard time breathing. They had us go out of the room first and stand to the side while they went to find medical equipment to help. He said he was fine and God helped him get his breathing under control. The other staff members were guiding people out and told us we had to go. We joined up with Bryan and the other kids and began to make our way around the hospital from exit to exit with no feasible way out. One after another the people with the flash lights were no longer in the front leading and I was moved to the front with the flashlight on my phone to help lead out. We dodged electrical wires, wood and nails and all kinds of medical equipment and office furniture along the way. We found an opening that wasn't piled high with cars and I naively said, this doesn't look like a safe way out. You see, I didn't realize what we had just lived through. I thought, we are alive, so it must not have been that bad. Someone pointed out this is the ONLY way out so, we have to go.
We made our way out and stood there in shock as we looked around and saw the destruction. The flat lands that were once filled with businesses and houses. The cars that were everywhere on top of one another, trees split, metal wrapped around things and in things. Total destruction. No sooner than we had began to take it all in there was a man yelling and running towards us to get away from there! We were right by the oxygen tank that was leaking and apparently there were several gas leaks in the area. The man said don't let anyone else come out that way! We told him we were the first out and there are hundreds behind us including my parents and they have to get out! He said that tank is gonna blow! Get away!!! We began to run away from there as quick as we could and my heart was breaking, now I was separated from part of my family that we had just survived with and now we may loose them anyway! As you can imagine, after an EF5 tornado, there is a lot of debris, grass was ripped up from the ground and thus lots of mud everywhere. We were not prepared to have to trek across all of this, much less with most of us in flip flops. As we were making our way across the parking lot other people started screaming at us to go quick, there is another tornado! We looked up into the sky and saw another funnel dropping and headed right for us. We were asking where do we go?? We just came out of the hospital and were told to go to the Warren. Thankfully there were people who were running with us and they helped carry kids across. We made it into the Warren and were told we could not go outside even after the tornado threat was gone due to the gas leaks.
Bryan went out to check it out as the crowds began to leave and see if he could find my parents. Thankfully they had made it over safely and I was able to find them shortly after that. We were moved from the hallways to the IMAX theater and stayed there for a little while. Bryan and I decided to go outside and assess things and see if we could get out the area. We saw people bringing injured from all over the place in their rocking chairs, in the backs of trucks, and we saw a man that was burned from head to toe, covered in 3rd degree burns and his arm was braced up as though it had been broken. We were able to pray with this man and he welcomed the prayers saying he had been praying the entire time he was spinning around in his car in the tornado. He knew that he was here only by the grace of God and was praising the Lord even as he was in such horrible condition. My heart was filled with love and joy!
We went back in with our kiddos and parents and finally were told it was all clear to evacuate as they were going to turn the Warren into a triage since the hospital was now destroyed. We went outside and stood in the parking lot feeling helpless as we stood there with no way to go anywhere, no way to really help, and no clue what to do next. Parents were coming to us over and over asking us if we knew where their kids were and what about so and so's class.. I had to tell them that we didn't know, we homeschool and thus our kids were with us. We didn't know any of the kids they were looking for or even where to tell them to go. This was so hard as they grabbed my children spinning them around to see if it was their child and then the heartbreak in their eyes as they realized it wasn't. They would ask my kids if they knew their child and we would have to say we're sorry, no. This became harder and harder.
Eventually my parents were able to get a ride home with someone that lived by them and happened to be in the area. We asked the officers if we were free to go as they had asked no one leave for a while and they said sure as long as you walk. No cars in, no cars out. Well, we knew that was our only option and so we began walking. As we walked out we encountered more and more parents from Plaza Towers and Briarwood Elementary came running to us asking where the other children were. We had to tell them one after another, sorry, we don't know. I cradled several mommas in my arms as we balled together over their missing children. I promised to continue to pray over them and we continued on our way towards home. We stopped at our bakery and met another mother who walked with us to the bus barn where Bryan's cousin's hubby picked us up and took her to FBC Moore in hopes that that was "the church" they were evacuated to. Unfortunately, we don't know if those families found their babies safe or not.
We spent the next few days in tears, lots of nightmares, and in utter disbelief of what we had survived. I struggled with survivor guilt and anger with God over not taking all of us instead of our friend's child and the other lives that were taken. God has a plan though. It has taken time for me to even write this all out, and will take more time for us all to completely heal from this. There will always be a spot in our hearts for our dear friends and neighbors who lost it all including lives of their loved ones. I have questioned God as to why he allowed us to live and he has answered.. because he's not finished with us yet. He has plans for us. I told God I would surrender my life to him fully and for him to do whatever he wanted with my life and use my life to make a difference.
So, stay tuned to see what God is up to next... BIG things in process!